Tue, 09 Mar 2021

Six talking points ahead of the Trans-Tasman T20I series

ESPNCricInfo
21 Feb 2021, 16:43 GMT+10

Australia's finisher

There's no shortage of options to bat at the top of Australia's order - it's almost a problem of plenty - but the big question is whether they can bed in a stable No. 6 ahead of the World Cup. Mitchell Marsh was recalled for the final match of the series against England last year and struck an unbeaten 39 to secure a consolation victory in the troublesome position. He has not played since, however, due to an injury which kept him out against India. If he's able to bowl he brings further balance to the side so may get the first crack in New Zealand. Ashton Turner, the Perth Scorchers batsman, is another option having earned a place in this squad largely on the strength of being seen as a specialist finisher. There will likely remain some flexibility over who takes the role on a match-by-match basis depending on the circumstances of an innings, but Australia would like some clarity on their first-choice option.

Martin Guptill's form

He is under some pressure heading into this series having not made a T20I half-century in his last 10 innings and scoring 85 runs in five innings against West Indies and Pakistan this season. Four innings in the Super Smash last month brought three single-figure scores before injury curtailed his tournament and put him doubt to face Australia. Guptill's overall record will buy him credit, but with the development of Glenn Phillips, Devon Conway, Tim Seifert plus the uncapped Finn Allen pushing very hard after a prolific domestic campaign a slump in form could prove costly - Ross Taylor has already been moved aside from the T20I squad this season. "Gup is a class player," coach Gary Stead said ahead of the series. "If you watched him bat in the nets [on Saturday] you wouldn't have known there was any issue at all. He hit it like a million dollars."

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Plentiful pace bowling

Pace bowling is another area where Australia do not lack for options. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are not on this tour because they had been due to be touring South Africa, but this squad features two recent IPL millionaires in Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith, the experience of Kane Richardson and the left-arm pace of Jason Behrendorff who has impressed in white-ball cricket for Australia before. Daniel Sams and Andrew Tye, the latter having found an extra gear to his bowling, have also enjoyed considerable BBL success. Even if the World Cup squads need to be larger later in the year due to Covid-19 there is huge competition for spots. Cases can be made in this series.

Who makes way for Ferguson?

New Zealand will have a bit to ponder as well when all their players are fit. Lockie Ferguson, who took 5 for 21 against West Indies late last year, is sidelined with a stress fracture of the back but will likely be a first-choice pick when fit. With two spinners almost a certainty in India, there will probably only be room for three frontline quicks - at most - in the final XI. Trent Boult will be a lock, so Tim Southee (nine wickets in his last four T20Is), Kyle Jamieson (another big IPL earner) and Hamish Bennett, plus a few from outside this current squad, including Adam Milne who was recently at the BBL, could be playing off for positions.

Are the gloves on or off?

Matthew Wade will be the first-choice Australia wicketkeeper in this series and would now appear to have the inside track for the World Cup following the dropping of Alex Carey (who was included in South Africa tour squad) during the series in England. It would now appear that Australia will look to have their wicketkeeper in the top three, although that's still far from certain given the absence of David Warner and Steven Smith from this series. If Josh Philippe scores runs in New Zealand he will make a strong claim for further selection after two prolific BBL campaigns. Ben McDermott can also take the gloves but would appear to be a back-up on this trip and still an outside chance of the World Cup.

New Zealand's seam-bowling allrounder

This is Jimmy Neesham's position at the moment but it's a role that could come under scrutiny for the World Cup and it could come down to how New Zealand balance their side. Colin de Grandhomme, who isn't part of this series, has been sidelined for much of this season and has only recently returned to bowling in domestic cricket but his T20I strike-rate (143.23) makes him an attractive option in the middle order although his last five T20I innings (albeit a long time ago) were 7,6, 0, 3 and 5. However, it could be that they look to Jamieson, who has yet to face a delivery in T20Is, and there is likely to be close attention paid to how his batting goes at the IPL as much as his bowling.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

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